“Good afternoon, Va’il,” Shiroi said.
“Hey, it’s you again!” Va’il said. His tone was pleasant, even if his words would normally be interpreted as rude. Va’il knew Ruby’s name, but he still wasn’t entirely sure of Shiroi’s.
“So it’s you two. That explains it. Never a servant or driver that lasts a long time in the house of Madam Melonscone, right?” Kelin asked with a smile. He backed away from the driver, who just had the sudden realization that the people he had insulted and nearly run over were friends of his master.
“Yes, always a new one lately, ever since our longtime, well, never mind. I’m starting to understand why, now,” Shiroi said. The driver knew he had lost his job at that point. But he hadn’t been told to leave yet, so he sat stiffly in the seat. “So, how can we make it up to you?”
“Tell Ruby to attend on the seventeenth,” Kelin said.
“I’ll pass it along. Anything else? Master Va’il?” Shiroi asked. Va’il’s heart thumped once at Shiroi’s address of him, and the tiny thought of how interesting it would be to have a servant couldn’t help but creep inside his mind.
“Just one thing,” Va’il said. “I want to confirm her graceful servant’s name.”
“Shiroi,” the avian girl said with a smile. Va’il laughed loudly at hearing the name, and then nodded at Shiroi, the avian understanding exactly why he was amused. “Then, that’ll be all, I assume. Goodnight, Masters.”
Kelin and Va’il looked at each other and grinned widely. Of course, both were only thinking of Shiroi as a servant, and a perfect one at that, in their minds. They walked off laughing together after giving knowing smiles to Shiroi.
“What was that?” Ruby said with a huff when Shiroi entered the carriage. It started moving again as Shiroi had told the driver to keep going.
“You are asked to attend on the seventeenth,” Shiroi said.
“Of course, I heard that. You, I mean what were you doing?” Ruby asked.
“What do you mean?” Shiroi asked. Her tone sounded honest, but Ruby couldn’t be sure as to whether Shiroi was innocent or playing with her.
“That… that… you… flirting!” Ruby said. She flushed red again.
“Oh? Really, was I?” Shiroi asked. Ruby saw a slight smile appear on Shiroi’s lips, and then disappear. “Or is that just what you think, precious, delicate Ruby? I’m an avian, not a lupus or human. But I’m a servant, and I try to act like one. Ah, I suppose it was just something I felt they’d appreciate. Don’t worry. In fact, you could even think of that as a gift from you to that boy. Think of it, a high-noble allowing their personal servant to call a commoner master! Definitely not flirting, my ever-concerned Ruby!”
Shiroi rarely jested with her mistress, but the opportunity to embarrass Ruby was fully embraced by the avian girl who had realized several important things. One of those being that Ruby was trying to overcome her upbringing of preconceptions, discrimination, and social formalities. Though Jane Melonscone was as prejudiced as anyone, her daughter attempted to be the opposite. Shiroi, seeing how Ruby could act like a real girl sometimes, was extremely happy. She really did have Ruby’s thoughts in mind when she called them masters. Shiroi was all too wonderful a servant to Ruby.
Ruby looked at Shiroi, realized what she meant, and couldn’t help but laugh at and mourn her speech and thoughts. More and more, she was wishing that she had more control. Control over her life, the places she was allowed to go to, the people she could meet with, and the feelings she had. On second thought, she quickly struck the last item from her list.
School ended, leaving Va’il and his group to their own devices. They gathered their things and walked outside.
“Cold,” Harnes said as she held her black-feathered arm up to block the wind. It was only a passing wind and soon stopped. She sat down with the rest.
“I’ve got some confidence in this one, what do you think?” Pete asked. The swine placed a large basket by the large old tree and removed various dishes from inside. A vanilla aroma filled the air when several white buns appeared.
“Good, good!” Va’il said. He took a drink of reddish tea and then licked his powdered fingers. He extended a claw and picked at a fang as well.
“Getting better, Pete,” Zeick said. The half-felis slapped the swine on the back and then jumped onto the tree and started climbing. Sitting in the branches were three avian boys who took the treats Zeick handed to them. Wide-eyed and pleased, they each nodded once and chirped something.
“You three! Speak Fervish!” Harnes said. The avian boys looked down at her from their high spot and stuck out their tongues, and then chirped a few more times. “Fine, be like that. But if you keep talking like that all the time, you’ll lose track of how you’re supposed to order Fervish words! Of course I have pride in it!”
“Harnes…” Va’il said quietly.
“Sorry boys. Look, just say it in Fervish. Nothing to be embarrassed about when simply saying thank you!” Harnes said, much more peaceably than before.
“Thanks Zeick!” three avian boys sang with smiles. Zeick had been laughing the whole time, and suddenly felt a bond with the three boys. He whispered something into one avian boy’s ear. The avian then replied in like manner. Finished, Zeick jumped to the ground. He approached Harnes, leaned down, and whispered something into her ear.
“What… was that… wait, did you just?” Harnes asked, her tone one of annoyance. Above them the avian boys laughed and chirped something else. A few seconds later, a resounding slap was heard.
“Ha, okay, I deserve that,” Zeick said while sitting down. The right side of his face was red, but for some reason Harnes’ entire face was red as well. Three avian boys, knowing that they just incurred more wrath from Harnes, jumped out of the tree and sped home.
“So what did he say?” Teena asked. Harnes quickly scowled at her.
“It’s not something to be repeated!” Harnes said angrily. Zeick just smiled without saying another word. After a while, Harnes said, “Zeick, act like a noble sometimes!”
“Speaking of which,” Kelin said while breaking the argument, “are you coming on the seventeenth, Zeick?”
“What for? Oh! That, probably not. Tralfor will though. Nobles’ social parties were never really that comfortable for me. He will probably drag mom along too,” Zeick replied.
“Bah, you’re still a noble. Species or fathers shouldn’t matter to you anymore,” Kelin said.
“Kelin, you don’t have to say it like that,” Teena said.
“I don’t mean it offensively, really. I just think he’ll have to get used to it sooner or later. He’s been accepted by the human now, and hasn’t backed down from it even when everyone else now knows. So it looks he’ll still land his hands on Tralfor’s estate. At least he doesn’t have to worry about siblings,” Kelin said with a certain amount of personal spite. Realizing that Kelin actually was thinking of his friend in a positive way, Teena stayed quiet. Though his actions and words seemed strange or offensive at times, there was almost always a second meaning to Kelin’s words, which he almost never explained to others. Though, for the past few months he had been explaining the meanings behind his words quite often.
“Eh, I’m not too worried about the being a half part of it. Things are better now, and father finally accepts all of it. But I just don’t know. I just don’t feel motivated to go, you know? Like reading a book sounds more interesting than another gathering,” Zeick said.
“So let me take your place!” Va’il said, suddenly jumping into the conversation.
“No offense Va’il, but commoners don’t really have a place. It’s more of a place to connect with other nobles and make deals. It’s not often that this many gather in the city outside of national events. All you’d be in for as a commoner would be food and dance… oh wait,” Kelin said. He stopped only after he realized his mistake.
“Food’s more than a good enough reason,” Va’il said. “Right, Pete?”
“Not interested, not getting involved,” Pete said. He was enjoying the conversation, as usual, as a bystander. He didn’t want to get involved in the affairs of nobles. He was the happy son of a spice merchant. He didn’t care to have more power or prestige.
“Why not let him come?” Teena asked.
“You too? I’m just being realistic. Why did we even get onto this subject?” Kelin asked. Of course, he realized he was the original instigator.
“I think it would be fine. Look, it’s not like Va’il will be alone. You will be there,” Teena said.
“Unfortunately, I’ll have a lot of work to do. Dad’s got a few people I need to… well, things. I can’t watch him constantly,” Kelin said.
“I’ll be there too,” Teena said.
“But even still, I… what? Teena, you’re… what?” Kelin asked. The expression he had was the most surprised one he had yet given.